With a lockout in place, and the threat of a missed season on the horizon, many NFL fans are worried. And there is widespread debate over who bears responsibility for this mess.
Are the players merely (for the most part) a group of greedy millionaires? Or is it the billionaire owners who are to blame?
With so much money at stake, it's not hard to understand why the two sides are fighting tooth and nail over the exact wording of a new collective bargaining agreement.
Enter ESPN.com's Rick Reilly, who recently posted this gem in support of "the little guy." Yes, apparently there is somehow a "little guy" in all of this, at least by Reilly's definition.
In fairness, I often like his columns. And I also don't feel particularly supportive of the NFL and its owners just now. But Reilly's piece doesn't work.
His intent is to highlight fringe players who are being and will be financially impacted by missing several months (or more) of work. I can appreciate that.
It's undoubtedly true that practice squad players and guys earning the league minimum are going to take more of a hit than those with seven- or eight-figure contracts.
But Reilly fails in his attempt to engender sympathy. In fact, what he wrote achieved the exact opposite reaction from this reader.
Consider his first vignette. Brian Schaefering, Cleveland Browns defensive lineman, made the league minimum of $325,000 last season. He self-reports that after taxes, that provided a net income of around $200,000.
His gross wages put him in the top two percent of all earners in the nation. Even assuming Schaefering's wife doesn't work, his net household income is more than four times the median household income in the United States.
Here's what Reilly and Shcaefering have to say about it:
"Well, [Schaefering] went undrafted in 2008, barely made the practice squad in '09 and finally started nine games for the Browns last season, making $395,000. He says he netted just over $200,000 after taxes. And he had plenty of bills to pay going into last year.
'I hear people joking around about this thing, but it's no joke,' he says. 'If this goes into the season, my wife might start panicking a little.'"
Panicking? After bringing home in one year what many people won't see in five or more?
"'I'll do anything,' says Schaefering, 27. 'If I have to work for UPS, I will. I got a family to feed. I've paved roads, fixed roofs, done landscaping. I'm not better'n anybody else. I don't want any handouts. I'd be happy with $12 an hour if I could get it.'
You hear anything about Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wanting to run a road paver lately?
'The problem is,' Schaefering says, 'who wants to hire a guy who may have to pack up and leave [for the NFL] a month or two into it?
So Schaefering and his wife are cutting back."
It's hard to believe that Reilly is seriously painting this picture. I can absolutely appreciate that professional athletes lead difficult and demanding lives, and that those who don't make the best salaries are probably not paid enough considering the abuse that they take.
But in the bigger picture, wanting the public to commiserate with a family who had to make do with only 200k is delusional.
Reilly goes on to tell other, similar stories of how players are being affected by these months of unemployment. They are equally absurd. The very examples he uses in an attempt to prove his point highlight how different the lifestyle is for NFL players.
Opening restaurants with Matt Stafford? Giving private coaching lessons? The average Joe hardly has such options available in tough times. Reilly should stick to the more legitimate references, like plumbing, if he wants to make a point that people can identify with.
Finally, he wraps up with the heartbreaking tale of Wisconsin All-American John Moffitt.
"Moffitt is a projected early- to middle-round draft choice, a can't-miss NFL starter who 'will make plenty of Pro Bowls once he's signed,' says his agent, Mike George.
The problem is, what if he never gets signed?"
Somehow, I'm just not aghast at the thought that Moffitt might actually have to enter the traditional work force. Did I miss something? Did playing professional sports somehow become a right rather than a rare and precious privilege?
It may shock Reilly to know that roughly 99.999% of the adult population will never play in the National Football League. What are we all to do?
Reilly concludes his piece by talking about how many players have resorted to taking out costly loans with inflated interest rates. I find it mind-boggling that people who have been out of work for a grand total of a month and a half are taking out desperation loans.
Were they not saving anything? What type of lives are they trying to maintain during this period?
A month and half. How many people in the general population have been unemployed or under-employed for a year or more?
In closing, he offers this:
"It's the owners who have taken the football and gone home. It's the owners who want a billion dollars back from the deal they have now. It's the owners who want two more games from the players for nothing. And not a single owner is contemplating roofing at $12 an hour."
Again, I am most certainly not in the owners' corner when it comes to this labor dispute. But come on. We're talking about businessmen, many of whom are self-made.
We're talking about men and women who have amassed vast amounts of money over long periods of time, and have chosen to then spend that money creating and supporting a game that America loves as much as any other.
It's the owners' money, and the revenue generated by the deals they negotiate that allows players to get paid in the first place, just as it's the players' talent that creates the demand for football at all.
And anyone who has risen to the level of NFL owner has obviously been smart enough with his or her money that he or she doesn't have to consider taking on a part-time job to make ends meet. To even bring up such a thing is ludicrous.
I hope the two sides can reach an agreement in short order, and that the NFL lockout can end quickly. And I hope that owners are in fact willing to give a little more back to the game. I believe that the guys doing the work should get most of the reward. But Reilly's stance is simply out of bounds.
This post originally appeared on sportsnickel.com.